Monday, July 14, 2014

The sick math of the Gaza war

by Elliott Abrams

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is clearly reluctant to order a ground ‎incursion into Gaza. This has disappointed some of his critics, who think it's a sign of ‎lack of courage, or of excessive wavering and hedging, or of thinking about domestic ‎politics.‎

It is not; instead, it's prudence. For one thing, Netanyahu knows he would be ‎sending some Israeli soldiers to their deaths. But he also knows that in the sick ‎math of the Gaza war, Israel would be blamed for "disproportionate" killing.‎

What that means is simple: Too many Palestinians would die, and "not enough" ‎Israelis -- in the view of much of "world opinion." You would read that calculation in The New York Times and see it on the BBC. In Operation Cast Lead in 2008, about ‎‎1000-1400 Palestinians died, and 13 Israelis. In Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 ‎it was something like 150 to 6. As of now, in the current conflict there are no Israeli ‎deaths and about 100 Palestinian deaths. Here's how Time Magazine started its ‎story:‎

"The death toll among Palestinians scrambling under a relentless Israeli air assault in ‎the Gaza Strip passed 80 Thursday and edged close to 100 Friday, including at least ‎‎14 children. … Meanwhile, the barrage of rockets Gaza militants launched toward ‎Israeli cities failed to produce a significant casualty on the third day of Israel's ‎offensive Thursday. … The Israeli military said it destroyed more buildings in the first ‎‎36 hours of the current campaign than in all of Pillar of Defense. More people are ‎dying too: The 80 fatalities reported so far is, once again, more than half the reported ‎death toll from the longer bombing two years earlier.‎"

Time then discussed exactly this phenomenon: When what "world opinion" sees as ‎‎"too many" Palestinians dying and the balance is "too great" in Israel's favor -- that is, ‎too many Palestinians and not enough Israelis being killed -- the calls for a cease-fire ‎will escalate. Moral equivalency between Israel and Hamas will be the order of the ‎day -- except for those who elevate Hamas, since after all it is killing fewer people!‎

Netanyahu knows this, because Israel has lived through it in all its past wars with ‎the Palestinians. So does Hamas know it, and Hamas is brutal and vicious enough to ‎hide behind civilians and seek civilian deaths. After all, this was the central theory of ‎the Goldstone report: that Israel was killing civilians and was morally culpable -- guilty ‎of war crimes. No doubt we'll see the same arguments made this time, especially if ‎Israel goes in on the ground.‎

As I write, the Hamas rockets are still flying -- unguided missiles aimed toward ‎populated areas in the hope of killing civilians. How long Israel can put off a ground ‎incursion is anyone's guess. But if that happens, here's something you can count on: The twisted moralists will be back, comparing the numbers of casualties on both ‎sides and accusing Israel of war crimes for the "disproportionate" use of force.‎

Remember this: In World War II, the United States suffered 416,000 ‎combat deaths, or about 0.32 percent of the population. Germany suffered 4-5 ‎million combat deaths, or about 5 percent of the population. The death ratio was 10 ‎to 1. Did that make the war unjust? Does that mean the United States inflicted ‎‎"disproportionate" numbers of casualties? Unfortunately the Israelis know "world ‎opinion" will never be on their side in these arguments. Let's just hope the United ‎States is.‎

Elliot Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This piece can be found on Abrams' blog "Pressure Points."


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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